DeSean Jackson has two red-zone TDs from Nick Foles in the last two games. (USA Today Images)
Used to be that when the Eagles got inside the 20, DeSean Jackson had to leave the field.
Drove him crazy, too.
“Sometimes it does, yeah,” Jackson said. “Because you get taken out of the game and other big receivers get put in the game.”
These days, Jackson doesn’t go to the sideline when the Eagles are near the end zone.
He goes to the end zone.
Jackson, who had just four career touchdowns inside the 15-yard line in his first 80 games, has two in the last two games, a five-yarder in the fourth quarter against the Giants and a 12-yarder in the second quarter against the Buccaneers, both from Nick Foles.
His two red-zone touchdowns in eight days match his total of two red-zone TDs in his previous three seasons.
“At the end of the day as a wide receiver, you’d like to get your chances down there,” Jackson said. “So regardless of [whether I’m a] home-run hitter or in the red zone, whatever it is, to put points on the board and score touchdowns, that’s what I love to do.”
This year has been all about finding new ways for the Eagles to deploy Jackson. In the slot, on slants, underneath the coverage and now even in the red zone.
Putting your best receiver on the field in the most important part of the field kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?
“Coming into this year, in the red zone in the past, they used to take me out and do two tight ends and things like that,” Jackson said. “And now I’m more interactive in the red zone and just able to get opportunties and creating mismatches and things like that.
“I think Chip [Kelly] does a great job of putting me in positions to go out there and just be successful in the red zone, so that’s an addition to my game.”
We all know Jackson is one of the great vertical threats in NFL history.
His 10 touchdown catches of at least 60 yards are 18th-most in NFL history and third-most by a player 26 years old or younger.
But his short game has been non-existent.
“It’s just something I kept working with and figured sooner or later I’d get those opportunities,” Jackson said. “So I’m just appreciative of the chances and trying to take advantage of every opportunity I get.”
Watching Jackson making plays in the red zone the last couple weeks, you wonder why the Eagles in past years sat him on the bench in those situations. Especially since their red-zone offense was terrible.
But that was then, this is now, and this staff is clearly finding new ways to get production out of the two-time Pro Bowl receiver.
“Generally, when you get in the red zone the shorter, quicker guys come off the field and the taller, lankier guys go on the field and you get the size advantage,” center Jason Kelce said.
“But DeSean, he’s just shifty and has so much speed. Sometimes when you get the bigger guys, you know nine times out of 10 he’s just going to outside release, jump ball. Whereas you have a DeSean out there, you have to respect the inside slant more so if he gives you a little head bob inside, it just gives the quarterback more space to throw the ball.”
Jackson has 308 career receptions, but only 24 of them have come in the red zone.
“I think he can be an effective player all the way up‑and‑down the field,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said.
“I don't know if we are consciously trying to evolve him into a better red zone player, but you know, when his number was called, he did a good job.
“I think as a receiver, you just really want to make sure you're running good routes and you want the quarterback to be confident at what you're doing and then when the ball comes your way, catch it, and I think he's working on all those things.”
Jackson is second in the NFL with 589 receiving yards, which leads all wide receivers. His five TDs are sixth-most in the league.
With 10 games left, Jackson needs just 29 catches, 568 yards and five touchdowns for career highs in all three categories.
If he stays healthy, Jackson is a lock to break Mike Quick’s franchise record of 1,409 yards in a season and he could threaten Brian Westbrook’s record of 90 catches. Terrell Owens’ mark of 14 TDs could also be in jeopardy.
Jackson said his hot start this year is the product of two big things -- his own offseason focus on taking better care of himself along with Kelly’s high-speed offense.
“Definitely a combination of both,” he said. “This offseason was a big offseason for myself. I challenged myself, tried to put on some more weight, hit the weights. Like the first year I’m really above weight and I’m in there getting strong a little bit.
“At the same time, Chip’s come in and started a great system for myself to be able to be successful in. But not only myself but [LeSean] McCoy, Vick, Foles, [Brent] Celek … we’re able to go out there and challenge the other team and challenge ourselves as well.”